Yemen at 'tipping point' as second Covid-19 wave hits war-torn country just weeks ahead of expected cholera season
Video report from ITV News Correspondent John Ray
Six-year-old Omar has known nothing but war.
He was born during the first year of Yemen's deadly civil war which has seen 130,000 people killed, four million displaced and 500,000 living in "famine-like" conditions.
And now the country is said to be at a "tipping point" as a second wave of Covid-19 hits the war-torn country, just weeks ahead of anticipated cholera outbreaks brought on by the rainy season.
In the past month, coronavirus cases have increased 22 fold in the past month.
Yemen's health care system is unable to cope, only half of facilities operational and no one in the country has had a coronavirus vaccine.
The frontlines of the war between the Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed government forces are changing, and the once more safe Marib Governorate in the centre of the country is now coming under attack.
There are 125 camps and between one and three million displaced people in the area, but already 15,000 people have been forced to leave and camps closed since fighting began in the region in February.
Omar and his family had been displaced four times before they moved to Alswidan Camp in Marib.
He says he just wants to go home. His father fears the family will have to move again.
Each time they are displaced they leave behind everything and walk for days to reach their next safe location.
At first they lived in caves drinking pond water before moving on to three different camps.
The seven members of the family currently live in a tent which measures three metres by four metres, Omar's father Salem says.
Omar says he is exhausted by the incessant wind.
"I don’t want to live in this place, I just want to go back home," he says.
"I hope to go back home to study and be educated and become a teacher. So I can teach other children and go back home."
Salem describes their life as "unenviable", saying they all live in "anxiety" of military attacks.
The 45-year-old says he and his family have "no future" in the camps they are living in, there is no way to earn a living and that his children are falling far behind in their education as a result.
He adds he has not received any food aid for a year and sometimes there is no water for a month, and when they do get it, each family, no matter the size and number of animals they have, get 500 litres to last for five or six days.
"I live with fear about my family and sleep and wake up frightened," he says.
"We live a threatened life and it is tiring and unsatisfying.
"For my dreams I don’t have any myself. I’m now 45 years old but I wish a bright future for my children, I want them to study and be educated and live in peace in their land.
"I wish they have a better life not the life we live together now.
"At least that they live a happier life than I had.”
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Why is Yemen at war?
The current conflict began in 2014, but it is rooted in the 2011 Arab Spring.
During Yemen's uprising, authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh was replaced by his second-in-command, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
Mr Hadi was widely thought to be a weak leader with a corrupt administration.
The Iran-backed rebel Houthis took this opportunity to seize the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north and Mr Hadi went into exile in early 2015.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of Sunni Muslim allies - backed by the US, UK and France - and sought to stop Iran from gaining influence on its border.
They began air strikes in the hope of toppling the Houthis and reinstating Mr Hadi's government.
The conflict has killed some 130,000 people and destroyed infrastructure and four million Yemenis were driven from their homes.
Infighting on both sides of the conflict has continued causing a complex deadlock that has caused what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
What is the scale of the humanitarian disaster in Yemen?
The coronavirus pandemic, cholera epidemics and severe malnutrition among children have led to thousands of additional deaths.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen will go hungry this year, with some half a million already living in famine-like conditions.
Some 68% of Yemeni's rely on aid.
How much has the UK cut aid to Yemen by?
The UK has pledged at least £87 million in aid, down from a promise of £160 million in 2020 and £200 million in 2019.
Critics have said the move is the UK abandoning its "moral obligations" which will "condemn thousands of children to starvation".
In a blog for ITV News, Oxfam highlighted the plight faced by millions of Yemenis:
The war in Yemen has just entered its seventh year just as the country is in the grip of a second wave of Covid-19.
Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and more than four million people have been forced to leave their homes due to the conflict.
The UN has warned that Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen for decades.
Nearly 70% of Yemenis rely on humanitarian aid.
A second Covid wave in Yemen will be devastating. Recorded cases of Covid in the first two weeks of March were 22 times higher than the number of cases in the first two weeks of February.
Yemen’s health system is estimated to be operating at half of its pre-war capacity despite the massively increased need for it and the country has not received any Covid vaccines yet.
It’s feared that the arrival of the rainy season - due in May – will bring a renewed threat from cholera, which combined with Covid, will overwhelm a health system battered by six years of war and economic collapse.
There are concerns that by forcing people to flee for safety, the recent surge in fighting will speed the spread of the virus around the country.
Marib Governorate in the centre of the country has been at the centre of intense fighting in recent weeks has recently reported Covid cases.
The UN estimates 1.2 million people have fled to Marib which hosts the largest internally displaced population in Yemen but local authorities have said they believe the number is actually around three million.
Until recently, Marib was considered a safe place for people to find shelter but camps for displaced people have recently been attacked and over the last seven days 13 civilians have been injured.
Some entire camps have been forced to evacuate.
Many people have been displaced four or five times as the frontlines of Yemen’s war have shifted
Despite this huge level of need, the UK in March slashed its aid budget to Yemen by nearly half meanwhile issuing £1.36 billion of licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia many of which will be used in the war.
Muhsin Siddiquey Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen said: “People in Marib are desperate, they face a stark choice between staying put risking their lives and their children’s lives or fleeing into the desert where there is no water or food.
“Even people who escape the missiles and bullets face a daily struggle to survive in the face of disease and destitution.
"Yemenis have suffered for six long years – it is time for the world to say, enough.
“We need an immediate ceasefire to ensure no more innocent Yemenis are killed and that humanitarian agencies have safe access to deliver the support they need.”
In March, the UN held a donor pledging conference asking for £2.8 billion but received less than £1.24 billion, less than was received in 2020 and £73 million less than the amount pledged at the 2019 conference.
A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “The UK has supported millions of vulnerable Yemenis with food, clean water and healthcare since the conflict began and will continue to do so.
“We are also using our UN Security Council seat and working with our allies to push for a lasting resolution to the conflict. Yemen’s leaders must urgently engage with the UN to agree a ceasefire.”
The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched a coronavirus appeal last summer for several countries including Yemen